Abracadabra, OpenSUSE Me!

Acer Chromebook 14 CB3-431

Last week I posted about rescuing a 12-year-old Acer C710 Chromebook someone sent me, by installing Bodhi Linux. Already I’ve come to love that distro for its user friendliness and light footprint. I’m fairly astonished at how smoothly the thing operates, and that even with LibreOffice, the Cheese webcam recorder (I’ll be using for game demo videos), and the Telegram desktop app, there’s still more than 3GB of hard drive space of the initial 16GB. This thing is destined to be my travel companion.

This weekend I figured I’d try out a few other Linux distros on the Acer CB3-431 in the photo, which has been running Win11 just for the cussedness of jamming such a big OS onto a Chromebook with only 4GB of RAM and 32GB of drive.

The biggest takeaway: God how old this thing felt, straining under the weight of Win11; and how new it feels running OpenSUSE. I mean, it’s exactly the same machine as before, with the same lightly scuffed shell and a keyboard with the C nearly worn off its key, but it feels like a Chromebook fresh off the shelves (maybe even better than one in its original price range).

Before settling on OpenSUSE, I sized up a few different Linux distros recommended by the Chrultrabook community website, and tried out a few, going through the long install process for each.

Chrultrabook.com recommends staying away from Ubuntu and its various flavors, due to problems with some Chromebook types.Their recommended Linux distros are Arch Linux or EndeavourOS, Fedora or Ultramarine Linux, openSUSE Tumbleweed, Debian 12 (Bookworm), and Pop!_OS. I had installed Ubuntu before reading that note, and liked what I saw, but why risk fate with my newbie status?

Halfway through the Arch install I aborted, frightened off by all the code. Pop!_OS is a Ubuntu fork (I hope I’m using that term correctly), and though free has elements owned by a computer manufacturer. Plus it’s as aimed at “STEM and creative professionals.” I wanted something less tuned, for which I could pick and choose apps to suit my needs and the limits of my Chromebook’s hardware. Each of the other distros would take up two thirds of its drive, and strain within the confines of its RAM, so OpenSUSE it was! (I may switch to Bodhi later, for familiarity, or not.)

OpenSUSE nstallation was fairly straightforward, with only one screen that gave me pause, about setting Internet parameters, apparently hardware settings. But online message board advice was to ignore it, which I did, with no resulting problem. The desktop is attractive, as you can see in the photo, with that popup Welcome screen containing links to an intial Read Me file, Documentation, and software programs on the left. On the right are support for your chosen desktop environment (after some online research, I had chosen Xfce from a half dozen other options), and invitations to support in turn by volunteering time and skill, or donation.

Three things I most use my current workhorse Windows PC for are Affinity Publisher, OBS Studio (an open source, full featured video recording program), and Open Shot video editor (another open source program). OBS Studio and Open Shot are now installed on the Acer 14; we’ll see how well they perform, but I’m expecting they’ll do well.

As for the Affinity suite, they have no Linux version (despite a community of users asking for it and jumping through hoops to code proof of concept imports). I spent many hours trying to get the Windows version to run through Wine or Bottles, but there was always some bit of installation code or another that my chosen OS got hung up at (pretty much always a Windows’ Dot Net failure). Nonetheless, those hours were hardly wasted, given how much I learned about using the Terminal window. It brought back memories of those early DOS days, before desktop GUIs were invented.

In the end, I installed Scribus instead, for which DriveThruRPG once had user support pages but no longer. Even their Affinity instructions are thin, with the assumption that most companies are using Adobe Acrobat. Which they probably are.

But for small publishers, an Adobe subscription is overly costly, and Adobe’s recent invasive terms of service changes are raising a stink among even full-time pros. I’d love to stick with Affinity, but the company has zero plans to develop a Linux version.

And today it dawned on me that, facing the question of layout software once again, why bother suiting DriveThru, simply to satisfy their choice of printer? A printer that requires the old PDF/X-1a:2013 format, which delivers such washed out, off color books and cards. It’s a lot of expense and effort for disappointing quality. Seriously, hold up a print book from DriveThru next to one from Lulu, or Jostens, or whomever, and the difference is shocking.

Such a lot of trouble and expense for such marginal results. It may be time to follow the example of some other successful small press folks I know, and drift to other waters, at least for other than PDF sales.

But this post isn’t about that aside. It’s about installing some type of Linux on old Chromebooks. Doing so isn’t for everyone: There’s some work involved with even the most user friendly distros, due to the Chromebook’s unique design. You have to open the case and disable the write protect, then flash a new BIOS, and walk through the Linux install process itself (which ranges from as straightforward as installing Windows in some cases, to expert code jockey in others). After that, with most Chromebooks you have to run three lines of code to make the speakers and headphone jack work. Next, there’s the issue of top row keys (such as volume and backlight controls) not functioning until you access the key binding interface in the menu and map them to do what you want (not horribly difficult, time consuming).

In the end, however, you’ve rescued a Chromebook from a landfill, and ended up with a sweet little machine with all the portability of a Chromebook but more of a customizable desktop OS. Or maybe send it to someone like me. I’ll install Bodhi Linux, LibreOffice, and some multimedia programs, and then pass it along to someone in need. There’s too much potential in these machines to let them go to waste.

Another Rescue Chromebook

I hate dumping old electronics just because they’ve reached OS end of service, and Chromebooks are notorious in that regard. Google is getting better about extended lifespan, but in the meantime there are countless “worthless” old Chromebooks headed to a landfill. 

But I’ve also come to love Chromebooks themselves for the role they fill: inexpensive, lightweight, quick start up browsing and writing.

With each passing year, my tether to Windows frays. It’s expensive, full of bloatware, resource hogging, and not that portable. And from my experience, Apple is no better. As for Microsoft Office, I seldom use anything but Word and Excel from that suite, and despite 40 years of personal experience with Word in particular, I’m just using it less and less, replaced by Google Docs, which I can access from whatever device is convenient at the moment—desktop, laptop, tablet, or even phone.

What Chromebooks cannot do is run PC games. In my case that’s not a big deal; I was already sliding away from PC gaming, to tablet and phone for those spare moments in a day, and the family’s gift of a Steam Deck virtually swept the desktop off the table as for PC games themselves.

My first Chromebook, that Acer CB3-431 at the bottom of the stack in the photo, was released in June 2016 and reached end of OS support in June 2022. Windows 11 had been released just eight months prior, signalling the writing on the wall for Windows 10’s demise.

As luck would have it, while researching for a new OS for my now “extinct” Chromebook, I stumbled across instructions for installing Windows 11 on out-of-service Chromebooks. It requires flashing a new BIOS on the Chromebook, which requires disabling the Chromebook’s write protect in the hardware, voiding any warranty, so not something you’ll want to do with a new machine.

But it works. Not as quickly or robustly as a PC actually built for Win11, but honestly usable enough for my purposes—and certainly for an introduction to the OS. I set it up to install any new software to a button USB drive, because the 32GB internal drive is nearly filled with the OS itself. Unfortunately, Steam, GOG, and Epic games managers all insist on using the internal drive, so I can’t have all three installed at once, but the machine is great for the family’s library of Big Fish Games. And, of course, for browsing. That big, clear screen is also great for streaming media!

The blue Chromebook in the middle of the stack in the photo is an HP Chromebook x360, meaning that the touchscreen can fold all the way to the back like a big tablet. Its end-of-OS date is June 2029, so I’ll be using it as intended, an “actual” Chromebook device, for another 5 years. It’s big but slim, making it nicely portable on the road.

As for the Acer C710, knowing my inclination to repurpose old devices, someone gifted that to me recently when they upgraded to a new machine. Released November 2012, it has only 2GB of RAM and a 16GB drive. Trying to find an OS to work within the limitations of this 12-year-old device proved a challenge.

I figured pretty obviously some light sort of Linux. The Steam Deck interface itself runs atop SteamOS (a proprietary Linux system), with an easily accessable desktop mode, and I’d been familiarizing myself with that interface to get unsupported PC games to run, specifically Vampire: The Masquerade, Bloodlines with the fan-made War Games WII setting, so I’ve been eager to sink my teeth deeper into a Linux distro without potentially bricking the Steam Deck. The trouble is, nearly every Linux version I could find requires at least 4GB of RAM and 20GB hard drive space, most of them actually a 32GB drive or more. Well, anything I could find that wasn’t beyond my fledgling Linux knowledge.

Gallium OS is a Linux distro developed specifically for Chromebooks, and it worked great on this little old thing. But OS support ended in 2022, leaving me in the same situation as with the machine’s original Chrome OS.

Eventually I settled on the minimalist Bodhi Linux, the desktop you can see in the photo. A basic install requires only 760 MB of RAM and 10 GB of drive space. This Acer C710 runs it smoothly, and there’s enough drive space left for an open-source office suite, not to mention the three USB drives to extend that.

The keyboard is the same comfortable size as on the other two Chromebooks, though that means that instead of the x360’s big speakers either side of its keyboard, the Acer 710 has some pretty tinny ones, even compared to the CB3-431’s. The webcam and mic work perfectly, so there’s a good chance I’ll use the new old machine sometimes for video chat gaming on Messenger, maybe on browser Discord. For headphones, there’s only an earphone jack on this model. No Bluetooth, though 3 USB ports if I want to see about adding a dongle. (Bluetooth mouse with dongle works just fine, so I’m hopeful.)

That’s the saga so far of rescuing another perfectly useable Chromebook. The saga of wading into Bodhi Linux has just begun.

Bethan Is Tailed!

Photo by Vitor Fontes on Unsplash

Yeesh! It’s been two years since I last role-played the vampire Petit Louis and his little retinue. I would have thought maybe eight months ago, but checking the last writeup on Facebook, I find their Chicago adventure posted May 2022. One battle since  to play-test a new combat rule last July (see the Battle Bookmark), but no actual dive into characters and story. So here we go, from a doctor’s waiting room session, using HandiQuest cards with the GameMaster’s Apprentice Horror Deck and Dracula’s Get! (Bundle here.)

At the end of last adventure, Dane (bodyguard), Danile (driver), and Aaron (“techretary”) had hauled a wounded Louis out of a Chicago hotel to his limo, leaving Bethan (starlet) to distract the paparazzi while they fled. Bethan then left for the airport with all their luggage, where she bought the group tickets to Toronto as a smokescreen.

Bethan Alone!

For this new session, the GMA deck turned up a choice between a Basement and an Amusement Park as the group’s rendezvous point. Though the basement would have made an easier trip (Difficulty 6), the amusement park (Difficulty 7) sounded like a much better story, especially if abandoned! I asked the next card if it is, and “Yes.”

Okay, final destination settled. Now for the interim events.

My next card choice was between a graveyard (Difficulty 7) and a home (Difficulty 6). You can guess which one I picked. The travel catalyst on the next card said, “Hunters are Hunted,” which I took to mean that Bethan was being followed. Certainly the possibility would have occurred to her, so I made a Wits check, gambling her vocation to halve that 7. Fail 8. Bethan drove to a small country graveyard she knew of outside Princeton, Illinois, to see if she had pursuers. (I asked Alexa on my phone for a small town about 100 miles southwest of Chicago). She pulled over and cut her lights, keeping the engine running. And saw another vehicle do the same not far behind.

Spooked, she put the pedal to the metal, and they gave chase. I chose to use the combat rules to simulate the driving competition, using Bethan’s Grace d12, rationalizing it as drag race training for an old movie role. For the pursuers, I let the deck choose between a d10 or a d12, and it came up d10. (I made up a rule on the spot for letting the deck make that choice: turn up a card, and whichever result on the dice wheel was higher, that’s the die size I’d be using.) Bethan rolled an S11 (Success 11); they got an F8 (Fail 8). A failure and the lower roll! Sounds like they blew a tire! I thought it unlikely they’d wreck, but the next card said “Yes!” So much for those pursuers.

Next destination: Playground 7 or Underwater 6. The first best suited my amusement park theme, but she needed an opportunity to rest, and Underwater sounded like something out a spy movie she might have been in. Plus, living with a vampire makes a person resourceful. So Bethan had stashed some gear in a cave with an underwater entrance. The travel Catalyst came up “Lost!” Ugh. Apparently while ditching her pursuers, she made a wrong turn onto an off road.

(I’ve been there. On the way to a small convention in the 90’s, I took the wrong lane on an interstate that splits in St. Louis, and ended up driving for hours one night across the north of Missouri rather than the south. This was still the era of paper maps. I eventually realized the error and found my way south on county roads, but my oldest daughter was in the car and has never let me live it down.)

Next card had a “No!” among the odds, so chance no rest on this drive. Just wide open farmland, with no safe place to pull over. Ugh. Onward.

Next destination: Castle 4 or Undiscovered Land 4. Well, she was lost, after all, so it’s all undiscovered land to her. The Catalyst on the next card is “Moral Dilemna,” and the card after that has more “No” than “Yes” on both sides, so in HandiQuest terms this was an encounter rather than a battle, but one was “NO!” so she still couldn’t rest. I take this to mean that Bethan was driving through the night, wrestling with her conscience whether she should have gone back to shoot her pursuers after they wrecked. Whether she could bring herself to execute a helpless enemy if the time came. In the end, she decided that “What if’s” are a waste of energy, especially while lost in the night. So she found an upbeat play mix on the stereo and concentrated on her driving.

Onward to a Theater 2 or Base 4. I was starting to worry that Bethan was never going to have a chance to recover before her final destination, where there was definitely going to be some sort of fight (per the HandiQuest system), and a theater is also more suited to her history. So after driving nonstop all night, Bethan headed to a small-town theater where she had once stopped as part of a movie’s promotional campaign. She hoped to convince the owner that she was on an incognito solo trip, trying to escape media attention, and she needed a place to hide out and rest for a day.

Alas, that was not meant to be. Although the next card draw revealed an encounter, not a battle, it also had another “NO!,” so again no rest. (I was having some bad luck finding a place for her to rest up, to say the least!) I asked the deck why. It told me there’s a strike going on. I took this to mean a local church group was picketing the theater over some salacious movie. Bethan drove on.

(If I were hosting this adventure for another player or group, I’d invent much more detail for scenes like this, fleshing out the protestors, perhaps with their leader holding a conversation with our heroes, etc. But as a solo player, that was all sort of taking place as a looser narrative in my head.)

Next up, Archives 7 or Casino 6. Here at last my choice of lower number was a site that seemed to match up with Bethan’s history. Catalyst on the next card was “Being Followed,” which didn’t surprise her by this point. The next card, at last, was a safe encounter, allowing her to rest. So after a day and night of driving, she coasted into Las Vegas and took a room at the Palms, an off-the-strip casino where she was less likely to be recognized. (Per a Google search on my phone.)

Next up, the choices were an Expedition Site 4 or a House of Ill Repute 6. That 4 is really tempting, but trying to fit the expedition site into her adventure seemed a stretch. House of ill repute, on the other hand, matches up with the “Chicken Ranch” an hour outside the city. And given Hollywood’s more sordid side, I could imagine her knowing someone employed there.

Drawing a Catalyst for the journey, I found “Villain vs. Villain Fight.” Apparently, the vampire hunters dogging her heels and the paparazzi who equally intent on finding her ended up in a clash. Using the same “What’s their dice?” technique as before, I found the paparazzi d10 and hunters d12. I gave it one round of combat, just for flavor, as Bethan left, and lo and behold! The paparazzi were kicking ass!

And at last the abandoned amusement park came into view. The travel Catalyst turned up “Secret Orders Unsealed.” Hmm. It didn’t make much sense to me for there to be something in the glovebox or trunk she hadn’t opened until now. Instead, what came to mind was a tarot reading; I could imagine Bethan carrying a tarot deck in her purse, and in fearful anticipation of what may come next, she pulled into a rest stop to do a reading, laying cards in her frontseat.

I decided that if this roll came up successful, I’d award her a Boon for the supernatural drama. [If I were hosting this adventure for players, I certainly would’ve.] F8. Ugh. She was weakened even further, her nerves jittery and heart pounding, as she packed up the cards and drove into the park. I could only hope that Louis and the others arrived had before her. Thankfully, the next card said “Yes.”

So what would this final combat all about? Knowing that Bethan had been trailed by hunters all along, it was pretty obvious that they’d be the enemies in this fight. But how about some details? I checked the “Items” section of a new card, and read among them “Religious Icons” and “Prototype Tech.” Which made me imagine a group of priests backed by a Papal strike team with some sort of anti-vampire invention. What was that tech? Players in a regular adventure wouldn’t know, so I left it a mystery to myself. How many in the band? A pair of card draws gave me 4 priests and 6 fighters.

Louis being a badass vampire, and about half his retinue having some combat experience themselves, I decided to rank the priests as d10 and Difficulty 4, with the strike team members a tougher d12 and Difficulty 5. I would treat them all as “minor foes,” per the Game Host’s Guidebookmark, as I usually do for mass combats like this. Lots of foes means lots of excitement! While one die per means no bookkeeping.

Louis and Dane are Difficulty 5, the rest of the party just 4’s, but Danile and Bethan both possess a few attributes that had been raised by experience, though Bethan was still weakened by her journey. The Dracula’s Get sourcebookmark is based on the powers and weaknesses of Stoker’s Dracula, so Louis is repelled by holy items like those the priests were carrying. He directed his retinue to battle them while he kept the elite troops busy. Louis figured in a 4 on 4 fight, his servants would finish the priests pretty quickly and come to his aid.

I won’t go into all the details turn-by-turn here, just report that the priests managed to hold out for a full 8 turns, leaving Dane nearly dead on his feet, and the rest pretty wounded. Bethan held her own. Danile learned some new fighting moves, boosting a d8 Attribute to d10. Aaron proved nearly worthless, but he’d never been in a fight before.

Meanwhile, Louis found himself alone for the duration! He first turned to mist, resulting in one fighter mortally wounding another in a UV-laser crossfire. Recomposing, Louis spent the next several turns striking among them with Undead Speed, until a lazer shot grazed him and put that ability out of commission.  He turned to mist again, sized up the battlefield, and found only two of the strike force still standing. I risked his mesmerizing ability to control one of them, despite their undoubtedly strong will, and he succeeded! His new puppet shot the other one dead, then turned the gun on himself.

At the end, one priest had tried to escape, but Danile and Bethan mercilessly cut him down, to keep any information from reaching Vatican City.

Post Session Comments

When I first pitched to Larcenous Designs the idea of a bundle of Dracula’s Get! and a horror deck, I’d imagined a pairing with Demon Hunters. Not being a fan of slasher flicks, I hesitated at the regular Horror Deck‘s graphic design (especially that hockey mask). But I’m glad Nathan suggested this pairing. I fell in love with the Horror Deck during this playthrough: the abandoned amusement park alone was captivating!

As to why so long since last playing Louis et al., much of the reason is that the previous adventure left me at loose ends. I had no idea where they would hide out to recouperate and plan how to proceed. Did they have a retreat preprepared? That seemed likely, but where could be remote enough to keep a low profile, while also large enough to supply a Dracula-style vampire with blood? I set aside the question temporarily to work on publishing projects, and out of sight is out of mind, so two years went by.

Lately I’ve been taking my wife’s advice to work less, which has meant some time for solo play other than PC games on the Steam Deck. As you can see from my previous post, I’m starting to dig back through solo purchases I’ve made over the years, and with the subject of solo play, Louis has been on my mind again.

My plan hadn’t been to run Bethan alone, but upon reviewing the situation where I’d left off, it only made sense. Part of the fun of the previous session had been to get into the various humans’ heads, ending with Bethan debating with herself alone at the airport whether to stick with this vampire. Running her solo would give me a chance to explore her personality more fully. And I’m thrilled with the results.

Everything but that final battle occurred right there in the clinic waiting room. Even the battle’s setup. Eric Miller’s HandiQuest rules cards allow you to keep track of an adventure if you have to stop partway through. A GMA deck with pencil and scrap paper (or BNHP character card) is all you need, so it was easy to start up again later that evening at home.

I don’t expect it’ll be so long before the group’s next adventure. 🙂

 

“I Want to Save the World, but I’m Just a Level 1 Skeleton” solo RPG

Here’s something I’ve been wanting for months to give a go: I Want to Save the World but I’m Just a Level 1 Skeleton. A solo dungeon crawl RPG about your rise from grave to greatness. This weekend I finally carved out an honest-to-god mental health day, printed a PC sheet, and gave it a try.

It’s a hoot. Short enough for a read-through in maybe 10 minutes. Easy enough to catch the main concepts right off the bat. Random enough to change the flavor play to play. Mechanically insightful enough to please my design sensibilities. And tongue-in-cheek enough to amuse from the get-go.

I don’t normally journal solo RPG plays, but this one begged for a record of battle decisions, like fighting a stone giant who tosses boulders, by daringly talking trash while tossing handsful of chalk dust into his eyes. Eventually convinced him he was so tired from throwing those heavy stones, that he fell over and shattered.

I wouldn’t say this has the long-term legs of something like Four Against Darkness (even without 4AD’s ongoing supplemements) but honestly, this is a stand-out design in terms of ability dice choices and the narrative its action invites. I’m sincerely impressed with its core mechanics, and the elegant ramifications of its artifacts and overlord powers.

Definitely recommended for solo players! And the optional co-op and GM rules look promising, as well. I’ll certainly be giving this some more table time in the future.

photo of my desktop setup for the game
My tiny desktop setup with Gary Con XVI dice tray & Black Death Cinderskull dice by Black Oak Workshop